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Georgia Prisoner Wins $60,000 Retaliation Verdict

On September 30, 1999, U.S. district court judge Orinda Evans awarded Georgia state prisoner Ray Yelverton $60,000 in compensatory and punitive damages in a retaliation suit against prison officials. Yelverton was convicted of child molestation charges in 1990. He was imprisoned at the Ware State Prison in Waycross where he headed the Prisoner Liaison Committee. In 1993 Benjamin Johnson became warden of the prison and decided to reduce prisoner involvement in prison affairs. Yelverton objected and continued to press the committee's concerns on behalf of the prisoner population.

Johnson's response was to change Yelverton's job assignment from electrician to manual laborer. Johnson then ordered Yelverton transferred to the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville where he spent the next 19 months in solitary confinement. Yelverton filed suit, claiming the job demotion, transfer and prolonged isolation violated his first amendment rights.

The court agreed and ruled that Johnson had improperly retaliated against Yelverton for exercising his First amendment rights. The court awarded Yelverton $35,000 in compensatory damages for mental anguish and suffering and $25,000 in punitive damages. Five days before the court returned its verdict, on September 26, 1999, Johnson, 56, died of a heart attack.

John Watkins, of the Long, Aldridge and Watkins law firm, was appointed by the court to represent Yelverton. Watkins said "We are very pleased with the result. These cases are very difficult to win, but we felt the evidence was strong." The court has not yet awarded attorney fees. News accounts did not say if the case was tried before a jury or a judge.

Source: Atlanta Constitution Journal

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Related legal case

Yelverton v. _____